Although it doesn’t make the process a snap, the Podcast Factory’s better than average inputs will add depth to your podcasts. Unlike the X-Mod, we can’t benchmark it because the non-standard inputs won’t let us test it objectively, however it sounds good and does the job well.
At its simplest, Pinnacle’s Podcast Factory is an external USB soundcard with one professional XLR microphone input and one 6.5mm input in place of a stereo line and microphone input. They are both amplified to line level by the onboard circuitry before being sent over USB to the single wave input that it makes available to your computer. This and the focus on recording make it more an audio interface than a soundcard, even though it shows up in the device manager as a USB Audio Device.
There are three dials on the front of the unit. The first controls the gain of the microphone, the one closest to the blue power LED controls the volume of the adjacent headphone socket, and the final dial is a mix fader which lets you monitor the sound card’s input and output, and operates like a balance control. You can monitor the audio in stereo or convert the signal down to mono with the pushbutton on the front of the unit.
The real fun (and the strength of the unit) starts at the back, where a 3 pin XLR input and a 6.5mm headphone jack are waiting for you to send them signals. There’s a small desk stand to hold the included handheld microphone, which despite its iffy karaoke bar styling still sounds reasonably good. It’s not hard to find a better professional XLR microphone, which is a worthwhile addition if you think your voice is worthy of John Laws’ microphone.
The 6.5mm input can be switched between instrument and line levels. This works nicely if you plan to connect your guitar directly into the interface and monitor with headphones, or if your amplifier has a direct 6.5mm output and you want to capture its sound in your recording.
In 2005, Pinnacle was bought by Avid, one of the biggest multimedia software houses in the world, so it seems a little strange that the Podcast Factory would be bundled with Audacity -- a free piece of audio editing software. Regardless of the fact that it’s the same piece of software that most podcasters already couple with a microphone and their sound card, it’s a powerful tool that does the job and comes with a good assortment of reasonably powerful effects. Unlocking its full potential isn’t easy, but results in the hands of an amateur are still very good.
The resulting file it creates will become your podcast, which is managed by another piece of software called Podifier, which is also freely available. It gives you a GUI front end for you to input information about the podcast, then generates the RSS code and uploads the lot to your server. Other than Audacity and Podifier, the bundled discs contain some atrocious background loops that you will probably never use.
The Podcast Factory does everything it sets out to do. It makes the recording process simpler by providing only one stereo input to your computer, hence providing less that can go wrong. It may not be a revolutionary development, and the software bundle isn’t anything fantastic, but it is a good addition to a podcaster’s arsenal.